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Media Alerts - Shuler v. Garrett - Sixth Circuit
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March 14, 2014
  Shuler v. Garrett - Sixth Circuit
Headline: A medical injection is a "procedure" that can support a medical-battery claim if unauthorized.

Area of Law: Tort Law; Medical Battery

Issue Presented: Is an unauthorized medical injection a "procedure" leading to medical-battery liability or a component part of treatment leading only to medical-malpractice liability?

Brief Summary: A hospital patient died because of allegedly unauthorized injections. The district court found that the injections were not "procedures" and dismissed the case because the hospital did not need the patient's consent. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that medical injections are "procedures" and that the hospital needed the patient's authorization.

Significance: The Sixth Circuit rejected a narrow interpretation of the term "procedure" for a medical-battery theory.

Extended Summary:

A patient died in a Memphis hospital. The patient's heirs sued the doctors, the hospital, and the clinic where the patient received treatment, alleging negligence and medical battery. The complaint alleged that despite being aware of the patient's heparin allergy, the medical staff injected the patient with heparin over her objections, causing her death. The district court dismissed the case, finding that there was no claim for medical battery under Tennessee law.

The Sixth Circuit reversed, explaining that medical battery is an intentional tort and that performing an unauthorized procedure is a medical battery. This is different from medical malpractice, the court noted, which is rooted in negligence.

Tennessee law provides a two-prong test to decide if a medical-battery claim exists. The court must determine (1) whether the patient was aware that the doctor was going to perform the procedure, and (2) whether the patient authorized the procedure. The Sixth Circuit explained that this case turned solely on the second question: what qualifies as a "procedure" and what constitutes authorization. Since the Tennessee Supreme Court has never defined the word "procedure," the Sixth Circuit used the common dictionary definition: "a surgical or (later) other therapeutic or diagnostic operation or technique." It concluded that an injection qualified as a procedure and noted that other states have reached the same conclusion. Next, the court found that the patient did not authorize the injections - in fact, she expressly refused them.

Finding that the patient did not authorize the procedure, the court concluded that the complaint made a case for nonconsensual contact (the injection) that violated the patient's right to bodily integrity. The court reversed the district court's order dismissing the medical-battery claim.

Link to Full Opinion:

Panel: Cook and Stranch, Circuit Judges; Carr, District Judge

Argument: December 4, 2013

Date of Issued Opinion: February 14, 2014

Docket Number: 12-6279

Decided: February 14, 2014

Case Alert Author: Jessica Michels

Counsel: ARGUED: Rachael E. Putnam, PUTNAM FIRM PLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellants. Buckner Wellford, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Rachael E. Putnam, Austin T. Rainey, PUTNAM FIRM PLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellants. Buckner Wellford, Shannon Wiley, Memphis, Tennessee, William H. Haltom, Jr., Claire M. Cissell, Memphis, Tennessee, William W. Dunlap, Jr., Tabitha F. McNabb, Laura S. Martin, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Stranch

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Barbara Kalinowski

    Posted By: Mark Cooney @ 03/14/2014 02:48 PM     6th Circuit  

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